Primer article/post on radio communications

B. Dean Berry

Moderator
May 25, 2014
279
90
11
I have noticed that many questions arise, especially from brand-newbs, about using radio communications in our hobby. To date, I've noticed no "one true thread" on the subject.

A little background on myself - I'm a licensed amateur radio operator (Technician-class), as well as a licensed GMRS operator, I have been the radio communications technician for several public safety agencies for a number of years at this point, I have formerly worked at a Motorola Service Center, and I have actively participated in Skywarn and chasing for over 20 years.

If it would be OK with the leadership, I would like to write an effortpost on radio communications and storm chasing, for the forum. My goal is to write something conclusive and definitive, with the goal of having it pinned here.
 

B. Dean Berry

Moderator
May 25, 2014
279
90
11
Introduction - Radio Communications & Storm Chasing


Your author, fresh off the installation of the first hole drilled in the car of NWS-Wakefield's Skywarn ham radio program coordinator.

Every brand new storm chaser in the last 20 years has the thought roll across their mind - "What radio should I have? I should have a radio, right?". Some brave souls even start "chase teams" right off the bat, and wonder about team communications. Speaking from the standpoint as someone who started out exactly the same way (IMO, from the wrong place), and as someone with the time and experience in to recognize the right way to do things, I aim to allay those questions, fears, or trepidation, and to make radio communications super-easy for the new chaser, and maybe provide some pointers for experienced chasers. I have been a radio communications consultant since 2011, a radio communications technician since 2003, a ham radio operator since 2013, a GMRS licensee since 1997 (most recent license 2015), and a storm spotter/chaser since 1997. If you have any questions, ask. This will be a multi-part article.

So, where do we start re: radios? If you've started with this question in the last 20 years, I think I knew where you started:



Helen Hunt at her absolute prime, running around the plains with her ragtag team of misfits, ever-present VOX headset on a Motorola HandiCom10 GMRS radio, talking to everyone on their.....



Cobra CB radios?

While Twister's mishmash of radios has long been the subject of ridicule and in-jokes among the more educated in the field, the fact remains: That one single movie brought a very useful tool to the fore, even for lone-chasers or single-car groups. Although the "magic" of Hollywood had a group of 10+ people, outfitted with CB radios, car phones, GMRS portables, FRS portables, 49MHz personal communicators, and VHF business-band radios, seamlessly, the truth is that each of these things are standalone services, on different frequencies, with different equipment. Even knowing what you're looking at can be daunting for the new radio user, so we will start with the outright basics.

Why Do I Need Radio on a Chase?

Radio is an incredibly useful tool to have on a chase, even if you never talk on any channel, ever. Much information can be gleaned from listening, if you know where to listen. Did you know that the National Weather Service has a radio network that broadcasts information over most of the country? It's true. NOAA Weather Radio. NWR puts out watches and warnings, and they can hit the NOAA radio faster than other products, in many cases. All warnings are now broadcast with SAME and Motorola QCII tone drop, and most NOAA receivers are set to alert when products are received, and can stay silent until then!

Aside from NOAA, the public safety radio systems in the areas you chase can be a giveaway as to the location of imminently-occurring severe weather, where road closures are about to be, and how bad damage in the area is after a storm has gone through. Listening to the truckers on CB19 can also give you an indicator as to where things are the worst, if you're within a few miles of the happenings. GMRS/FRS radios can keep you in contact with other chasers in the area. Ham radio (VHF & UHF most common) can let you know what the Skywarn spotters are seeing over large areas, and in cases of large systems like K-Link, sometimes whole states. All of these can be tools in your arsenal that can help you select the best place to be, know where not to be, and how to stay out of the way of emergency services, and be a good steward for storm chasing.

This has been a lot of terms. NWR. SAME. QCII. Public Safety Radio. CB. GMRS/FRS. Ham. VHF. UHF. What does all of this mean?

It will all be explained.

What is VHF and UHF?

VHF and UHF are frequency bands. They are stated in bands, because all radios rely on these bands. Radios are often referred to by band, which is simply the frequency ranges they can operate in. Radios can be mono-band (1 band), dual-band, tri-band, quad-band, or multi-band. The most common radios we will be speaking of are mono-band and dual-band. Any discussion of multi-band radios will be limited to scanners, which are receive-only.

VHF Comprises a wide band section from 29MHz to about 300MHz, and is shorthand for "Very High Frequency". The section of VHF that primarily concerns us is 144MHz to 170MHz or so. Anything we will use to transmit a message over will be between 144MHz to 148MHz, and a few frequencies in 151MHz and 154MHz.

UHF Comprises an incredibly wide band section of anything above 300MHz, and is shorthand for "Ultra High Frequency". The section of UHF that primarily concerns us is 440MHz to 520MHz, with a little more at 769MHz to 870MHz. Anything we will use to transmit a message over will be between 440MHz and 450MHz, and several frequencies in 462MHz and 467MHz.

What Are PL Tones, or TPL, DPL, Privacy Codes, CTCSS, etc?

When you hear mention of any of these terms, they basically mean the same thing. PL Tones is shorthand for any of the CTCSS or DTCSS tones found in wide use in all forms of radio communications. They all come down to an old invention of Motorola from the 1970's. It is layering a sub-audible tone (you can't hear them) onto your voice transmission, so that only receivers with that tone will open and pass the audio to you. This cuts down on interference from other users, and results in a quieter experience. CTCSS is the abbreviation of Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System, while DTCSS is the abbreviation of Digital Tone Coded Squelch System. There are numerous different codes for each. Many ham & GMRS radio repeaters are guarded by these tones, and a great many groups of people will coordinate on the same code and channel, depending on use.
 
Last edited:

B. Dean Berry

Moderator
May 25, 2014
279
90
11
Introduction - Radio Communications & Storm Chasing


Your author, fresh off the installation of the first hole drilled in the car of NWS-Wakefield's Skywarn ham radio program coordinator.

Every brand new storm chaser in the last 20 years has the thought roll across their mind - "What radio should I have? I should have a radio, right?". Some brave souls even start "chase teams" right off the bat, and wonder about team communications. Speaking from the standpoint as someone who started out exactly the same way (IMO, from the wrong place), and as someone with the time and experience in to recognize the right way to do things, I aim to allay those questions, fears, or trepidation, and to make radio communications super-easy for the new chaser, and maybe provide some pointers for experienced chasers. I have been a radio communications consultant since 2011, a radio communications technician since 2003, a ham radio operator since 2013, a GMRS licensee since 1999 (most recent license 2015), and a storm spotter/chaser since 1997. If you have any questions, ask. This will be a multi-part article.

So, where do we start re: radios? If you've started with this question in the last 20 years, I think I knew where you started:



Helen Hunt at her absolute prime, running around the plains with her ragtag team of misfits, ever-present VOX headset on a Motorola HandiCom10 GMRS radio, talking to everyone on their.....



Cobra CB radios?

While Twister's mishmash of radios has long been the subject of ridicule and in-jokes among the more educated in the field, the fact remains: That one single movie brought a very useful tool to the fore, even for lone-chasers or single-car groups. Although the "magic" of Hollywood had a group of 10+ people, outfitted with CB radios, car phones, GMRS portables, FRS portables, 49MHz personal communicators, and VHF business-band radios, seamlessly talking to one another, the truth is that each of these things are standalone services, on different frequencies, with different equipment. Even knowing what you're looking at can be daunting for the new radio user, so we will start with the outright basics.

Why Do I Need Radio on a Chase?

Radio is an incredibly useful tool to have on a chase, even if you never talk on any channel, ever. Much information can be gleaned from listening, if you know where to listen. Did you know that the National Weather Service has a radio network that broadcasts information over most of the country? It's true. NOAA Weather Radio. NWR puts out watches and warnings, and they can hit the NOAA radio faster than other products, in many cases. All warnings are now broadcast with SAME and Motorola QCII tone drop, and most NOAA receivers are set to alert when products are received, and can stay silent until then!

Aside from NOAA, the public safety radio systems in the areas you chase can be a giveaway as to the location of imminently-occurring severe weather, where road closures are about to be, and how bad damage in the area is after a storm has gone through. Listening to the truckers on CB19 can also give you an indicator as to where things are the worst, if you're within a few miles of the happenings. GMRS/FRS radios can keep you in contact with other chasers in the area. Ham radio (VHF & UHF most common) can let you know what the Skywarn spotters are seeing over large areas, and in cases of large systems like K-Link, sometimes whole states. All of these can be tools in your arsenal that can help you select the best place to be, know where not to be, and how to stay out of the way of emergency services, and be a good steward for storm chasing.

This has been a lot of terms. NWR. SAME. QCII. Public Safety Radio. CB. GMRS/FRS. Ham. VHF. UHF. What does all of this mean?

It will all be explained.

What is VHF and UHF?

VHF and UHF are frequency bands. They are stated in bands, because all radios rely on these bands. Radios are often referred to by band, which is simply the frequency ranges they can operate in. Radios can be mono-band (1 band), dual-band, tri-band, quad-band, or multi-band. The most common radios we will be speaking of are mono-band and dual-band. Any discussion of multi-band radios will be limited to scanners, which are receive-only.

VHF Comprises a wide band section from 29MHz to about 300MHz, and is shorthand for "Very High Frequency". The section of VHF that primarily concerns us is 144MHz to 170MHz or so. Anything we will use to transmit a message over will be between 144MHz to 148MHz, and a few frequencies in 151MHz and 154MHz.

UHF Comprises an incredibly wide band section of anything above 300MHz, and is shorthand for "Ultra High Frequency". The section of UHF that primarily concerns us is 440MHz to 520MHz, with a little more at 769MHz to 870MHz. Anything we will use to transmit a message over will be between 440MHz and 450MHz, and several frequencies in 462MHz and 467MHz.

What Are PL Tones, or TPL, DPL, Privacy Codes, CTCSS, etc?

When you hear mention of any of these terms, they basically mean the same thing. PL Tones is shorthand for any of the CTCSS or DTCSS tones found in wide use in all forms of radio communications. They all come down to an old invention of Motorola from the 1970's. It is layering a sub-audible tone (you can't hear them) onto your voice transmission, so that only receivers with that tone will open and pass the audio to you. This cuts down on interference from other users, and results in a quieter experience. CTCSS is the abbreviation of Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System, while DTCSS is the abbreviation of Digital Tone Coded Squelch System. There are numerous different codes for each. Many ham & GMRS radio repeaters are guarded by these tones, and a great many groups of people will coordinate on the same code and channel, depending on use. It is important to remember that these tones do not prevent others from hearing you if they want to, they only eliminate out-group interference, so always talk on the radio like your grandma is listening.
 

B. Dean Berry

Moderator
May 25, 2014
279
90
11
What is Ham, GMRS, FRS, etc?


Ham radio is the frequencies allocated by the FCC for use by amateur radio operators. For our uses, we will focus on the 144-148MHz (2-meter) and 440-450MHz (70cm) frequency bands. Although multiple digital modes exist here, most of our communications occur on basic, no-frills, analog. Just think of it as "regular radio, nothing fancy". To transmit on these bands, you must take and pass a ham radio exam, for Technician-class license, at a volunteer exam (VE) session. VE Sessions are held by local ham radio clubs all over the country, all the time. Study for the test and take practice exams at eham.com. You do not need a license to listen to ham radio.


GMRS, or General Mobile Radio Service, is a series of channelized frequencies in the 462MHz and 467MHz regions of UHF. It is license-by-fee, meaning that you can fill out an application online at the FCC's ULS site, pay a $65 fee, and you will be granted your license. GMRS is comprised of 15 channels, as follows:


1 - 462.5625

2 - 462.5875

3 - 462.6125

4 - 462.6375

5 - 462.6625

6 - 462.6875

7 - 462.7125

8 - 462.550

9 - 462.575

10 - 462.600

11 - 462.625

12 - 462.650

13 - 462.675

14 - 462.700

15 - 462.725


Channels 8 through 15 can be used in simplex or repeater mode, with a 50-watt power limit. Channels 1 through 7 can be used in simplex mode only, with a 5-watt power limit, and are shared with the first 7 channels of the Family Radio Service (FRS). It is important to note that, confusingly enough, the last 8 channel settings may be different per manufacturer, and may be labeled as channels 15 through 22. You do not need a license to listen to GMRS frequencies.


FRS, or Family Radio Service is a low-power UHF simplex service found in the 462MHz and 467MHz segments of the UHF band. It is license-by-rule, meaning that you do not need any license to use this service, as long as you follow the rules. FRS is comprised of 14 channels -


1 - 462.5625

2 - 462.5875

3 - 462.6125

4 - 462.6375

5 - 462.6625

6 - 462.6875

7 - 462.7125

8 - 467.5625

9 - 467.5875

10 - 467.6125

11 - 467.6375

12 - 467.6625

13 - 467.6875

14 - 467.7125


As mentioned above, the first 7 channels are shared with GMRS. Channels 1 through 7 may now be used by simplex, at 5 watts, while channels 8 through 14 are still restricted to a half-watt, and simplex. On any FRS-only unit, and on newer FRS/GMRS combo radios, this channel set will be the same. The channels 15-22 on combo sets are still restricted to those with a GMRS license only.


CB, or Citizens' Band radio, is a channelized AM short-distance communications service found on 26MHz and 27MHz, and is composed of 40 channels with a 4-watt output. License is by-rule, meaning that you do not need a specific license to use the service, as long as you follow the rules. Short-distance comms can be made on any channel, but the most important channels you will need to know are 9 and 19. Some radios even have a button that goes to these channels directly. 9 Is the national emergency channel, that may still be monitored by state police in some areas (Ohio comes to mind), while 19 is the channel most used by over-the-road truckers in nearly all areas of the country. When the truckers start sounding restless and talking about the weather, pay attention. If the weather is bad enough, they may find somewhere safe to get to. If wheels don't turn, money doesn't get made.


Most CB radios now feature NOAA weather radio channels, and some even feature weather alert.

MURS, or Multi-Use Radio Service, grew out of the VHF itinerant business band segment. Back in the 90's, WalMart, Radio Shack, Home Depot, and others were selling pre-packaged boxed-up Motorola Spirit, Ritron JobCom, and Ranger RCI VHF business-band handheld radios. Presumably, these radios were meant for construction contractors, stores, and other businesses, to use. They all came with licensing applications for an FCC Itinerant Business Band license. No one ever filled those out, and simply just used the radios as they pleased. Eventually, the FCC caved, and allocated the five most common channels included in these radios into the new "Multi-Use Radio Service". It was license-by-rule, with no license required as long as you followed the rules. MURS can be useful for certain chase groups, if you run with a closed group, and all MURS radios feature the full CTCSS/DTCSS tone set. Two of the channels are still occasionally referred to by their old business band color-dot channel markers. They are limited to simplex, 2 watts output power. The 5 MURS channels are:

1 - 151.820
2 - 151.880
3 - 151.940
4 - 154.570 (Blue Dot)
5 - 154.600 (Green Dot)

Green Dot/MURS 5 is by far the most populated MURS channel, due to the absolutely massive numbers of Motorola Spirit and Ritron JobCom 1-channel radios sold that included this frequency as the default channel. I do not recommend MURS use outside of in-team communications, as it is not a widely-used service outside of certain niche elements. Be advised that a whole lot of prepper/survivalist/militia members have adopted MURS 3 (151.940) as their calling channel, and many operations or exercises may be heard on that channel. This is important, though, as militias have a tendency to deploy to natural disasters, such as the Joplin Incident, and communications with militia-based SAR and rescue efforts may be occurring on these channels.

Additionally, you may hear emergency traffic in the wake of an active tornado incident on those MURS channels, as well as GMRS 13/20 (462.675), CB channel 9, and may hear volunteer group traffic on any of the FRS channels, with 1 being particularly popular.
 

B. Dean Berry

Moderator
May 25, 2014
279
90
11
So, What Radio Do I Need?

To start, I will recommend a good mobile scanner. A good mobile scanner will be one that is relatively recent, to hear important public safety traffic on the new models of trunking systems. Trunking systems are frequency-hopping, computer-controlled systems that usually employ digital voice. The newest of these "must have" technologies is Motorola's xTDMA P25 Phase II. That's a lot of jargon, but just know that whatever you're trying to listen to, you need the proper equipment, or you won't hear anything. To this end, I recommend the Uniden BCD996P2.



This scanner is capable of receiving everything from the old low-band analog fire paging systems, to 700/800MHz P25 Phase II trunking. Check out radioreference.com for systems in the area you will be chasing. These are easily programmed with Butel's ARC-XT software.

Next, I will recommend a good mobile CB radio. This is a looser definition. I myself use a Cobra 75WXST, as it is super-compact, but your space requirements and results may vary. Pretty much, every CB radio made since the late 1970's/early 1980's is still suitable for use. It has not changed much in the past 40 years. If it's a synthesized radio, and it has 40 channels, it can still be used.

What About a GMRS/FRS Radio?

I personally use Motorola commercial gear for GMRS. This is above many's pay grade or level of understanding, so I'll keep this geared toward the consumer market. Unless you like carrying bricks.


Yes, it's every bit as big and heavy as it looks!

Your mileage may vary, and may depend on many factors, such as design, ~ a e s t h e t i c ~, or price. As a baseline, I will recommend something that is waterproof, that floats, that is in a bright florescent colorway, and that has all FRS and GMRS channels. The following are all good picks.


Cobra floating walkie-talkies, electronics section at WalMart


Motorola Talkabout MR230

Make sure that you set all radios to the same channel and code. As a general rule, when I chase, everyone who is in the car gets handed a radio. If someone gets out of the car, the radio goes with them, and everyone's radio gets turned on. You never know what may happen on a chase, beyond the danger posed by weather. Contact is the safest form of safeguard against injury or death. It's the reason that everyone in a steel mill is mic'd up with a radio, even though they're within arms reach of another person. Safety, safety, safety.

What about older radios, like the time I found these gems at a yard sale?



Since we've mentioned The Movie already, one of the most ever-present radios was the Motorola HandiCom10 GMRS radio. It spawned a line of personal radios in the 90's and 2000's, such as the Sport 10, Sport 10X, Sport 7X, Talkabout Distance, and Talkabout Distance DPS. These are all robust radios built on Motorola's Spirit Commercial business platform of the day. These are all fine radios, although can be restrictive and are not waterproof nor submersible. Channels 1-7 can now be used without a license.

Now, some chasers do use GMRS radios as personal communicators in the field. Some. Keyword some. If you heavily use GMRS radios, if you're in a pack of people using the same, or if you're doing the team thing, you may want to think about a mobile GMRS radio. Midland now makes a line of excellent mobile GMRS radios. Mobiles are excellent. Increased range, less fiddling with channels and such, all you have to pick up is a microphone, and they don't run the batteries low on your portables. Also, they are now available in the electronics section of WalMart, and in most sporting goods stores.

 

B. Dean Berry

Moderator
May 25, 2014
279
90
11
What About Ham Radio?

Ideally, a mobile ham radio will be dual band - dual VFO - dual watch. This means you want a radio that is capable of using VHF and UHF ham frequencies, can tune two different channels at the same time, and can hear both channels simultaneously. My personal pick is the Icom IC-2730a.



Others have more stringent wants or needs. Some use APRS, some use a TNC feature (usually for APRS), some use digital modes. For my money vs. options preference, the 2730 does everything a basic chaser needs it to do. I am sure that other hams can weigh in on this subject.

Steer clear of the cheap Chinese radios, if you plan to transmit (licensed, of course). Sure, they're cheap. They also run very dirty. I've bench-checked Baofeng and Wouxoun radios. The oscilloscope readout is anything but pretty.

Also, keep in mind that if you are not planning to be talking on ham radio, or do not want to get a license, you can listen to ham radio frequencies on your scanner.

A great many storm spotters, and even storm chasers reporting conditions to the NWS, use ham radio.

As a footnote - If you are gathering footage to sell, or conducting a chase tour, as a team, and are taking money for your services, and use ham radio to coordinate your activities, this is not legal.
 

B. Dean Berry

Moderator
May 25, 2014
279
90
11
Let's Talk About Antennas

Here's where some people get all angried-up. From my experiences in commercial radio, I cannot recommend any antenna that mounts with a magnet. I can't recommend anything that mounts on a mirror bracket or a lip bracket. I am hesitant to recommend glass-mounted antennas, unless they are made by Antenna Specialists, and even then, I am skeptical. All of these methods have some pretty pronounced down-sides.

Magnet Mounts

Where to begin? Nearly everything about a magnet mount antenna is terrible. You are depending on a magnet to transfer a path to ground plane to the roof's metal. It's not too terribly effective, and sends RF back down the ground-side jacket of the coax cable. This can shorten the lifespan of your radio, and kill your signal. Additionally, magnets aren't really good for staying on the car in the face of inflow winds. Some will swear otherwise, but this is my experience. Finally, magnet mount antennas rely on a coax going through a door or trunk opening, which creates a place where water can enter the passenger or cargo compartments. This will eventually result in floor rust under the carpet, and mold. Eventually, a magnet will trap dirt and metal shavings, and will rub the clearcoat off of your paint, potentially chipping into the paint too, which will result not only in paint damage, but rust.

Lip Mounts

How to ruin your car for only $49!

Lip Mounts, particularly no-drill lip mounts, are famous for this. They take a lot of stress with mounted antennas, and adding in highway-speed driving and cross-winds, can bend up the lip of your trunk or hood in no time. They also cannot achieve ground without two small scratches on the underside where the screws tighten against the metal, which will lead to the same rust problems found with magnet mounts.

Other Mounts


I call this type of mount simply "The Bad Idea Mount". The mount shown is stick-on. That's not going to hold up for a long time at all. It offers no ground plane at all, sending RF back down the jacket, and adds the problem found in magnet antennas with water intrusion into the car, all while adding the wonderful bonus of placing a coax in the pinch path of the most-used door on the vehicle. Stay away from this type of mounting. Mirror brackets suffer from the same problem shown here.

Glass Mounts

Glass mount antennas work off of the theory of inductive coupling, where tiny coils in the antenna base, and a box on the inside of the glass, supposedly pass RF. It's a very lossy situation, resulting in the RF travel issue discussed earlier. They make work "ok" for UHF and higher, and are great for some scanner antennas, but bad on VHF, as the coils can't be made large enough. Also, if you aren't careful, installing a glass mount antenna over defroster wires on a back window WILL result in problems with the car's electrical system, and severe problems with your radio. Currently, I only really trust Antenna Specialists with making glass-mounts, and that's even a little shaky.

SO WHAT DO I USE!?!?



Drill. The. Hole. Seriously. A properly-installed 3/4" or 3/8" NMO mounted antenna will never let you down. It is self-sealing, so it will not leak into the car. It features a lower seal, for that purpose, and an outer seal between the antenna base and the roof keeps water and corrosion out of your drilled hole, so no rust, and you can consider that area of the paint to be sealed. These offer the best combination of waterproofing, ground plane, conduction to the antenna itself, and value. It's the purest path possible. These should be mounted in metal.

Conversely, if you want to mount your NMO in fiberglass or plastic, such as a camper shell, there are thick-mount 3/8" NMO bases (I use these a lot on ambulances), that can be used with no-ground-plane antennas. Most commonly, you will see "1/4 wave" or "5/8 wave" antennas for VHF and UHF, which must be used with a ground plane. No-ground-plane antennas at "1/2 wave" or "3/4 wave" can be had to use in those circumstances. This is all up to the user, but you should have the proper antenna for your grounding situation.

OK, Looking at Mounts. What's PL259? BNC? FME? What Connector Do I Need?

Ironing out connectors is simple. Most scanners use a BNC connection. The connection on the coax will appear as such:


Most all ham radios, CB radios, and consumer mobile GMRS radios use an "SO-238" jack on the back. This mates to a "PL259" connector. Except in rare cases, this is almost always true. The connections for your CB, GMRS, and Ham radios should look like this:


If you wind up with a Motorola commercial mobile, for GMRS, you will see an anomaly! It's going to look like an SO238, but really small! This is called a Mini-UHF connector. If you have one of these radios, you will need an antenna kit with a Mini-UHF connector. Simple stuff.

Older scanners will feature what appears to be a single television A/V connection, or just a long/deep hole in the back, for an antenna jack. No worries. These were older types of connection, used from the 50's until the 90's, and some are still in use for car stereos. These are known as RCA or Motorola Classic, accordingly. Simply use a BNC-connected antenna, and adapters for RCA/BNC and Motorola/BNC are widely available.
 

B. Dean Berry

Moderator
May 25, 2014
279
90
11
What antenna should I use?

Personally, I use the following antennas:

Scanner - Tram 1091-BNC. This kit comes with the antenna, NMO mount with coax and BNC connector pre-attached, and even comes with an NMO L-bracket for screw-in mounting in a trunk or hood lip (if you really want to do that after reading this).

GMRS - PCTel A/S 150-512. This antenna can be cut for any frequency between 150MHz and 512MHz. Mine is cut for 464MHz, right between 462 and 467. It features a spring, so if you go into parking garages and such, it will easily bend out of the way.

Ham - Tram 1181/1252. This kit comes with a dual-band ham antenna, tuned for 144-148 and 440-450MHz, and an NMO mounting kit with coax and PL259 connector pre-attached.

CB - Browning BR-140. This antenna is a base-loaded CB antenna, and creates an approximation of 1/4 wave. Since 1/4 wave at 27MHz is just over 9 feet tall, this is the best I can do on my vehicle. The whip itself sits at 49", the coil handles the other 53" worth of wire. I have added a Tram spring to the base of mine, to lessen resistance and strain.

Your results may vary, but this is what I've settled on after a long time dealing with radio issues.
 

B. Dean Berry

Moderator
May 25, 2014
279
90
11
I'm seeing a lot of other types of radios on the internet. Can't I use those?

Out-of-the-box? No. Let me break some of this down:

Kenwood/Motorola/Vertex/other commercial radios

They can be had for cheap on ebay! Very cheap in some cases. Ham radio operators have been using VHF and UHF commercial gear for eons on the ham bands, and older wideband Motorola UHF gear is very popular for use on GMRS systems. It's more a case-by-case basis for these types of radios, but know that many are restrictive as to what they will and will not allow a user to do in the field. These were designed for policemen, firefighters, meter maids, and trashmen to use, and will not have a great many options and features. The upside is that they are nearly indestructible, and it's not uncommon to find 30-year-old gear still working fine. More downside, though, you cannot easily change PL tones or channels without the use of proprietary software and some pretty old computers. Save yourself the headache, and don't jump down that rabbit hole unless you know for sure what you are doing.

VHF Marine radios

I fell prey to this as a teenager, with my idiot buddies. When a man from the FCC shows up at your house and asks politely for you to stop using them, do so immediately. The allure is there, particularly in areas where there aren't navigable waterways! 25 Watts? VHF? Cheap and readily available at West Marine or Amazon? Sure. Hunters are even using them in some areas. The thing that a lot of people don't understand, though, is that even in areas I've described, many of those frequencies serve other uses. For example, some of the VHF marine channels are used by Federal Government interop repeaters in the Midwest. Don't get popped by the Feds. Don't use Marine VHF.

I found radios cheap, they say "PMR446"

PMR446 radios are fairly cheap online. They are radios that are used on the UK's PMR446 service. PMR446 Is akin to FRS in the United States, but fall within the 446MHz range, or the dead-middle of the US 70cm ham radio band, and hams will track down people illegally using their frequencies. If you're storm chasing in the UK, sure, use PMR446 radios. If you're not, leave them be.

This guy on ebay is selling UHF CB's from Australia....

Australia has an amazing 80-channel UHF CB radio scheme. It's very similar to GMRS in the United States. It's also wedged into what's known as the UHF T-Band in the US, around 476MHz. This is a band segment that will contain either UHF television stations, or public safety communications, depending on area. Similarly to PMR446, if you're chasing in Australia, great. If you're not, save yourself the heavy fine and leave them be.

What's a Maxon 49SX?

Back in the 1990's, Maxon and Radio Shack both churned out 49MHz personal communicators. "The Movie" features a few of them. Nearly all were 1 or 2 channel affairs, with a rare 5-channel made by The Shack. Nearly all of them had a permanently-attached headset with boom mic or audionic earpiece, almost all featured PTT and VOX, and I have only ever seen two models that resembled typical portable radios. These were very low-powered, could not be used with CTCSS/DTCSS tones, and they suffered a problem with neighbors. Remote control cars and aircraft, kids' walkie-talkie sets, and even McDonalds' drive-thru systems made use of these frequencies. Additionally, it has been an incredibly long time since I've seen one available new for purchase, and parts are completely unavailable at this point. While it's not illegal to use them, and there's nothing stopping someone from using them for chasing, you will likely not be happy with them, and when they're broken, they're broken forever.
 
Oct 6, 2010
40
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Centennial CO.
Normally I'd just drop a simple "like" on a good post but the amount of effort you put in here deserves more than that. Thank you for the information! Reading and rereading this might be the kick in the pants needed to finally go get my ham license.

Although it's not really in the same vein, there's a few mobile apps you can get if you want to hear what going on around you. Broadcastify is the one I have the most experience with, although it's no substitute for a radio in the field because of cellular data plan limits (if you have them) and connection issues if you're out in the middle of nowhere. Also, they won't do you any good if the area you're in has had their infrastructure damaged or destroyed (think direct hit from a tornado). However if you're at home or out in the field and have good hotel wireless and you want to listen to what's going on somewhere else, you might check it out.

I'll also mention that if you're interested in ham radio and emergency/event management, finding a local ARIES group might be a good way to go. When I first moved to Colorado, I went to a Skywarn class, which turned out to be the local ARIES group's normal meeting time and ended up coming to a bunch of their other gatherings later. Nice guys, and I learned a lot from them.
 
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B. Dean Berry

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May 25, 2014
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Thank you, and you're welcome. ARES is a good starting point in some areas, as is RACES. Aside from those two groups, some areas are ARC territory, and in some places (Cleveland, Wakefield, Sterling, and Blacksburg all come to mind), Skywarn itself runs the ham radio reporting.

Broadcastify and similar apps can be great tools, if you have the data and service is available to use it. The catch 22 is that not only is a connection and proper infrastructure required, but in that area, someone has to have a scanner hooked up to a computer, putting it on the internet. As mentioned, in disaster areas, all of this (sometimes including some guy's house with a scanner and a computer) can be damaged or destroyed, most definitely.

I'd also like to throw in a beat about ham radio -

It has come to my attention that Alinco now makes a Part 90 certified dual-band VHF/UHF mobile radio in the Alinco DR-638T. It features a detachable faceplate, has a separation kit, still features a screw-in mic (no RJ45 mic jack), and can not only do the typical 144-148/430-450 split, but can receive and transmit on the full 136-174/400-490 band. If you have public safety interests, as well as being a ham, this could be a great radio. Although not technically Part 95 certified, Part 90 has higher standards than Part 95, so it could be feasible to use this radio on GMRS as well as ham, as long as bandwidth and power output are properly entered.

Also, most ham radios can now be programmed with RT Systems software. RT Systems produces some of the best quality, easiest-to-use software I have ever seen. The downside with RTS is that you usually (unless stated otherwise) have to buy not only the software, but the programming cable as well, as they use proprietary programming cables and USB codecs. It's 100% worth the cost, though.
 

B. Dean Berry

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May 25, 2014
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Frequency Guides

Where can you hear chasers or spotters? Aside from the multitudes of Skywarn repeaters, many of which can be found at www.repeaterbook.com, there are some pretty popular simplex channels where they may be heard as well.

Ham -

146.550
146.460
446.100
446.075
223.520
1294.550

Note that all channels are used in "CSQ" or open squelch (no CTCSS or DTCSS tones), and sometimes, 146.460 and 446.100 may be cross-patched in some areas, and simply within some chase vehicles.

Additionally, in the Wakefield VA CWA, and in some areas of Pennsylvania, traffic may be heard on the following channels:

147.510, DTCSS code 255
147.585, DTCSS code 255

If you are familiar with different digital modes on ham radio, the Wakefield CWA also recognizes these frequencies:

441.0375 - DStar digital voice
441.0625 - DMR digital Tier I, Color Code 7, Talkgroup 1

GMRS -

These are a little different, and not as widespread, but storm chasers may be using any of the FRS/GMRS channels, with the following being most popular:

462.5625 (FRS/GMRS channel 1), CSQ or CTCSS tone 67.0
462.675 (GMRS channel 13/20), CTCSS tone 141.3

Additionally, in the Wakefield VA CWA, and in some areas of Pennsylvania, traffic may be heard on the following channels:

462.550 (GMRS channel 8/15), CTCSS tone 127.3
462.700 (GMRS channel 14/21), CTCSS tone 156.7

Other potential channels to plop into your scanner, if it interests you:

Project Vortex - The following channels have been used throughout the evolution of the various Vortex projects:

163.225
171.9375
161.100
163.275

Doppler on Wheels -

158.400 - Voice comms between pack vehicles
151.940 (MURS 3) - Telemetry data

Militia/Volunteer Group Disaster Comms -

155.160 - Used for ground SAR in many places, Federal interop channel
154.340 - Event medical comms/hospital interop
155.400 - Event medical comms/hospital interop
151.940 (MURS 3) - Prepper/militia calling channel

Statewide Law Enforcement channels -

Oftentimes, general chit-chat between various police agencies can be heard on these channels. They can be very active during severe weather. Assume these to be FM, CSQ. If otherwise, it will be noted beside the agency name.

37.100 - Arkansas EMA 3
37.200 - Arkansas EMA 2
37.240 - Arkansas EMA 1
37.260 - Tennessee Statewide
37.280 - West Virginia Sheriff's Net
38.500 - Nebraska EMA 1
38.600 - Nebraska EMA 2
38.700 - Nebraska EMA 3
38.800 - Nebraska EMA 4
39.100 - Maryland State Police
39.180 - Arizona IOP
39.500 - Louisiana State Police Common
39.540 - Virginia SIRS
39.580 - Kansas Law Interop (CTCSS 156.7)
39.760 - New Jersey EMA Statewide
39.900 - Nebraska Law Interop
39.980 - West Virginia Statewide Mutual Aid
44.700 - Oklahoma State Police car-to-car
45.320 - Mississippi Statewide
45.360 - Illinois ILSIRN (CTCSS 103.5)
45.520 - Vermont EMA (CTCSS 118.8)
45.560 - Illinois NWS Spotters (CTCSS 210.7)
47.500 - Maryland Civil Defense
145.170 - Arkansas ARES comms van
151.445 - South Dakota Statewide
151.475 - Iowa IOWA (CTCSS 167.9)
151.460 - Wisconsin State Police Common (CTCSS 146.2)
152.285 - Illinois IWARN-1 (CTCSS 88.5)
153.755 - California OES/CALFIRE (CTCSS 192.8)
153.905 - Montana EMA (CTCSS 156.7)
154.085 - North Dakota Civil Defense
154.130 - Kansas MERS/EMWIN (CTCSS 151.4)
154.680 - Missouri MTAC (CTCSS 156.7), Ohio LEERN 2, New Jersey SPEN-1 (CTCSS 131.8)
154.695 - Colorado State Police (CTCSS 136.5)
154.710 - Maine Statewide
154.725 - Idaho DPS Statewide (P25 digital)
154.755 - Tennessee Statewide Mutual Aid
154.875 - Wyoming MAT, New Mexico Northwest Interagency (CTCSS 146.2)
154.905 - Georgia Intercity
154.920 - California Law Enforcement (CTCSS 156.7), New Mexico Statewide Emergency (CTCSS 127.3)
154.935 - Oklahoma State Police car-to-car (CTCSS 114.8), Ohio LEERN 1
154.950 - Texas Statewide Calling (CTCSS 156.7)
155.010 - Alabama Law Enforcement Statewide
155.025 - Utah Civil Defense, Illinois ESMARN, Indiana EMA (CTCSS 91.5)
155.055 - Illinois IREACH
155.190 - Rhode Island RISPERN, North Carolina Intercity
155.235 - Oklahoma EMA Statewide
155.370 - New Mexico Intercity, North Dakota Law Command (CTCSS 146.2), Kansas Intercity, Missouri State-to-Sheriff, Wisconsin Point-to-Point (CTCSS 146.2), Kentucky Police Intercity, Tennessee Police Intercity, Michigan Police Intercity, Ohio Police Intercity, Indiana Police Point-to-Point, New York Interagency, Florida Point-to-point
155.475 - Nationwide Law Enforcement Interop, Oregon Statewide, Nevada Statewide, Iowa Law Aid, Missouri MOLEEN, Illinois ISPERN, Kentucky KLEEN, Tennessee NLEEF, Indiana ILEEN, New Hampshire NLEEF (CTCSS 136.5),
155.490 - Nebraska Region 26 EMA (DTCSS 432), Oklahoma Statewide (CTCSS 156.7)
155.505 - Utah Common
155.550 - New Mexico Car-to-Car (CTCSS 127.3)
155.730 - Kansas Statewide Law, Missouri Sheriff's Net
155.790 - Montana State Police (CTCSS 156.7)
155.805 - Ohio EMA Statewide
155.955 - Massachusetts EMA Statewide (CTCSS 100.0)
155.970 - Washington Statewide
156.750 - Wyoming Interagency
157.545 - Illinois IWARN 3
158.835 - Pennsylvania EMA
158.970 - Rhode Island Intercity
453.150 - Western Kentucky Emergency Network (CTCSS 127.3)
453.300 - Kentucky Statewide (CTCSS 162.2)
453.525 - Pennsylvania EMA
453.875 - Illinois Statewide EMA (CTCSS 103.5)
460.025 - Idaho Statewide Mutual Aid, Vermont Statewide Mutual Aid (CTCSS 118.8)
460.225 - Arizona State Police (CTCSS 100.0)
460.400 - Tennessee Statewide Law
460.425 - Colorado CLEER
460.525 - Idaho Car-to-Car (CTCSS 100.0)
855.9875 - Oklahoma State Police direct (CTCSS 77.0)
858.2625 - Connecticut Statewide Police (CTCSS 156.7)
 
Apr 25, 2009
65
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Scottsdale, AZ
Very nicely done - thanks for the hard work!

Ironically, I also have an Icom 2730 in my vehicle. A major feature is the ability to separate the controls ("control head") from the radio. I have the control head stuck into the groove shelf in the dash of my Toyota Highlander 2015 Limited. The radio is under the passenger seat. I do use a lip mount on the hood, but no damage - probably because the antenna (a dual bander with a coil in the middle) is low drag.

My loose group of chasers uses FRS radios for car-to-car. They are so inexpensive that I always carry a spare to hand to a follower who doesn't have one. And, the 2730 can monitor them.

I don't use the 2730 for much on the chase part of the chase. The workload for the navigator (which I usually am) is too much to have time for fiddling with scanners. I do sometimes put it in weather band mode to hear NWS radio, but that's about it. I have given up on submitting Skywarn reports in the Midwest after several bad experiences with unprofessional and rude Skywarn net control stations in Tx. If I see a TOR and nobody's around, I'll have to call NWS or 9-11, since too many Skywarn folks won't talk to outsiders, even when I give my Skywarn ID (MAA0040). Instead, I'll just call NWS Phoenix Skywarn and they can relay to the appropriate office.
 
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B. Dean Berry

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May 25, 2014
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One of the best things about the newer scanners is that, if set up properly, no fiddling is required. The new Uniden lines can utilize a GPS puck, and when the scanner is programmed, GPS info can be entered. It changes it's own scanning, based on where you are.
 

B. Dean Berry

Moderator
May 25, 2014
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Road Channels

The use of common calling channels, sometimes called "Road Channels" in other industries is great for reaching out and contacting other chasers. Whether this is for help/assistance, confirmation, maybe to get a different angle on the same storm, or just to have someone to talk to, making contact on a road channel can keep you somewhat accounted for, and it's something to do on the plains (or wherever you are) when you're bored.

Having been mentioned before, I'll again post the "chaser simplex" frequencies, relabeled as "Road Channels", and a couple of added notes, along with a proposed new Road Channel.

The first note to make is that, in much of the country, a CTCSS tone of 114.8Hz has been added to the transmit side of the frequency in recent years, with the general thought that if interference is too high, the same tone can be applied to the receive side of the channel. Having seen this with public safety agencies before, I believe that the 114.8 CTCSS will be standard on both sides of the chaser/Road channels in the coming years.

Proposed Road Channel Bank
(New information/changes in bold)

Road 1 - 146.550 - CTCSS 114.8 on transmit - Consider CTCSS 114.8 on receive
Road 2 - 146.460 - CTCSS 114.8 on transmit - Consider CTCSS 114.8 on receive
Road 3 - 223.520 - CTCSS 114.8 on transmit - Consider CTCSS 114.8 on receive
Road 4 - 446.100 - CTCSS 114.8 on transmit - Consider CTCSS 114.8 on receive
Road 5 - 446.075 - CTCSS 114.8 on transmit - Consider CTCSS 114.8 on receive
Road 6 - 52.510 - CTCSS 114.8 on transmit and receive
Road 7 - 1294.550 - CTCSS 114.8 on transmit - Consider CTCSS 114.8 on receive

Proposed New Simplex/Road Channel

The new channel I have proposed is a simplex frequency of 52.510MHz with a CTCSS tone of 114.8Hz on both transmit and receive. This new channel is in the bank of generally used simplex channels in the 6-Meter ham band, which shares some fairly interesting qualities. Firstly, 6-Meters is less-used than the VHF/UHF channels, so there won't be as high a noise floor, nor will there be a ton of people already talking. While the 23cm band channel "Road 7" also shares this scarceness, the noise floor at that range is high, and the talk radius is very limited. 6-Meters is in the "low band" section of VHF, and the lower you go, the more propagation characteristics are shared with HF, meaning that your signal arcs higher and travels further. To cap it all off, most 6-Meter operations are performed with mobile radios, and 6-meter mobile radios generally have higher output power ratings, usually starting at 50 watts. A 6-Meter road channel will provide the biggest bang for the buck.
 

B. Dean Berry

Moderator
May 25, 2014
279
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Diplexers and Triplexers

I've been seeing more diplexers and triplexers in public safety vehicles lately, but they are standard pieces of equipment that have been around the Ham world for a very long time. Sometimes erroneously called duplexers, diplexers and triplexers are small items of filtering equipment that can isolate frequencies in both directions. Diplexers and triplexers make it possible to route 2 or 3 different radios to a single multiband antenna, or to route a multiband radio to 2 or 3 different mono-band antennas. It's even possible to re-feed leads with these devices.

For example, I will be completely refitting my car soon. My plan is to use the 6-Meter (50-54MHz), 2-Meter (144-148MHz), and 70cm (430-450MHz) bands of a quad-band mobile radio, but I'm getting limited on space for antennas. I'll be running a triplexer to split the multi-band radio into 50MHz, 144MHz, and 440MHz leads. The 50MHz lead will go straight to a 6-Meter antenna, while the VHF and UHF leads will be tied back into a diplexer, to combine those leads for a dual-band VHF/UHF antenna.

Loss is minimal with these filtering devices, and attempting to do this with just coax and splitters will damage radios and result in bad transmit patterns.

I will post photos and a video when I refit the car in the coming months.
 
Jan 6, 2019
85
30
6
Tyler
Diplexers and Triplexers

I've been seeing more diplexers and triplexers in public safety vehicles lately, but they are standard pieces of equipment that have been around the Ham world for a very long time. Sometimes erroneously called duplexers, diplexers and triplexers are small items of filtering equipment that can isolate frequencies in both directions. Diplexers and triplexers make it possible to route 2 or 3 different radios to a single multiband antenna, or to route a multiband radio to 2 or 3 different mono-band antennas. It's even possible to re-feed leads with these devices.

For example, I will be completely refitting my car soon. My plan is to use the 6-Meter (50-54MHz), 2-Meter (144-148MHz), and 70cm (430-450MHz) bands of a quad-band mobile radio, but I'm getting limited on space for antennas. I'll be running a triplexer to split the multi-band radio into 50MHz, 144MHz, and 440MHz leads. The 50MHz lead will go straight to a 6-Meter antenna, while the VHF and UHF leads will be tied back into a diplexer, to combine those leads for a dual-band VHF/UHF antenna.

Loss is minimal with these filtering devices, and attempting to do this with just coax and splitters will damage radios and result in bad transmit patterns.

I will post photos and a video when I refit the car in the coming months.
Still waiting on those photos :)